When it gets to Mars six months from now, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will join three other orbiters that are already there, and spend at least four years orbiting, studying, analyzing and mapping the red planet. Cornell University astronomer and Mars scientist Steve Squyres says it's going to be the most important Mars mission yet.
Squyres says NASA hopes to use this reconnaissance to decide where to land future unmanned robotic explorers, and, ultimately, show the way for human exploration. Squyres knows a little something about Mars and Mars exploration. He came up with the concept of sending robots to explore Mars, and he led the team that designed the two Mars Rovers that are still rolling around on the Martian surface sending back data and photographs. He says those two little robots -- named Spirit and Opportunity -- have exceeded all their expectations.
The best part -- he says -- is that the indefatigable Rovers have found evidence that Mars is capable of supporting life forms of some kind.
Squyres is a true believer on the subject of space exploration. He says exploring space enriches the human spirit in countless ways, and the money we're spending on space is getting pumped into the national economy so it's not going to waste. He says humans have always been explorers, and explorers hunger for knowledge. We need to know if we're alone in the universe, and that's why it's important and realistic to go to Mars.